Elle Moxley has had a hard life. She's been homeless, incarcerated, and fearful for her life as a black trans woman. She put her own dream on hold while she fought for survival, and her tenacity led to becoming a co-founding member and former strategic partner of the Black Lives Matter network and founding the Marsha P. Johnson Institute—an organization that advocates for black trans people.
On the latest episode of The Motherly Podcast, Moxley talks to Motherly co-founder Liz Tenety about the importance of talking to kids openly and honestly about race, sex and gender.
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"A lot of times parents go into conversations with their minds made up around what the end outcome should be. And with an assumption made that children, young people, young adults have no knowledge of race or class or gender. And I think that's the falsity of parents' own ignorance. And what they are unwilling to face," she explains to Tenety. "The beautiful thing about children is that they face everything in the most honest and tender ways. And sometimes we interrupt them so that we can still be the dominant force in their lives and in their minds."
So what's her suggestion? It's simple: Listen.
"I think about my own relationship with my mother in particular. And I think one of the things that certainly didn't exist for her was a rubric on how to raise a young black trans girl," she says. "It didn't exist for me. And so I do wish that we would have been able to go on that journey together, but I was forced to go on it alone. And, you know, I think when you, as a parent have not been on a journey with your child, the only thing that you can do as a way to provide some recourse or some correction is to just listen about what that experience was like."
She continues: "I was forced into a situation where I had to acknowledge something that I had no knowledge about. I had no idea what it was to be gay, but it was something that was labeled on me. And so I assumed, based on how I saw myself in comparison to other kids, that's who I was. But I didn't know what that meant."
As an activist, Moxley believes a cultural shift is possible, but only if parents are willing to let their children lead the way and feel heard and respected when they share those experiences. If she was able to communicate like that with her family, she thinks her life would've ended up much differently.
"Having the opportunity to explore what that meant for me would have been eye opening and it probably wouldn't have been such a violent journey along the way," she says.
When it comes to the topic of race, Moxley explains why a white parent teaching their kid "not to see race" is problematic.
"I'm not teaching my kids to not see any race. That doesn't even make sense based on visually what we're experiencing. If you have the privilege to see, then you see race. And you see it in your mind before you actually see it with your eyes. So you've already created an idea around someone's identity based on your perception of their skin color," she says. "And so this idea that we don't teach people race and we don't teach our kids race is actually just something that we say to be politically correct. And you will never hear that said from any person of color. There's a particular privilege and experience that is associated with being able to say such a thing that I don't think white people are ever thoughtful about when they engage people of color."
She also points out the fallacy in using the "colorblind" card as a way to promote equality.
"I think there is a responsibility for those who abide by 'I don't see race' to acknowledge it in a way that moves it beyond 'we're all equal'. Because that's just not the experience we've had," she says bluntly. "There were over 500 years of colonization that interrupted an entire world's opportunity to create the equity that we like to see exist. So I would always suggest that people root their experiences not only in love, but in truth. And the only way that there will ever be any conversations honestly had about race, class and gender is if it is one that is rooted in what has happened to people across race, class, and gender over time. And that doesn't happen enough, which is why people can deny that race even exists."
Aside from educating listeners about how to talk to kids about these sensitive subjects, Moxley also gives advice on how parents can best advocate for their children.
"I think it's so important to surround yourself with people whose experience is similar so that you don't feel alone and that you don't get resentful for not having the answers because the resentment leads to even more devastation when you're trying to support your child, who's already devastated by being different," she says. "And so that's the thing that I would always say is, seek community, find community, find resources that will encourage more opportunities for knowledge, as opposed to opportunities for you to resist the essence of who your child is."
To hear more about Moxley's experiences, listen to The Motherly Podcast for the full interview.
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